Anumana in Indian Philosophy

by Sangita Chakravarty | 2016 | 48,195 words

This page relates ‘Classification of knowledge (2): Invalid Knowledge’ of the study on the concept of Anumana (inference) in the Vedic schools of Indian Philosophy. Anumana usually represents the most authentic means of valid knowledge. This paper discusses the traditional philosophical systems such as Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Samkhya, Yoga, Mimamsa and Vedanta.

Classification of knowledge (2): Invalid Knowledge

Knowledge is a quality of the self which has the nature of manifestation. Knowledge manifests an object physically or mentally. The genus of knowledge inheres in it.[1] It has already been stated that valid knowledge is that which apprehends an object in its real nature. Invalid knowledge is that which apprehends an object as different from it.[2] There are divergences of views regarding the forms of invalid knowledge. The Nyāya system includes doubt (saṃśaya) as well as error (viparyaya) and hypothetical reasoning (tarka) under apramā or invalid knowledge.[3]

According to the Vaiśeṣika system, invalid knowledge is of four kinds, viz., doubt (saṃśaya), error (viparyaya), indefinite perception (anadhyavasāya) and dream (svapna).[4]

According to Kumārila, there are three kinds of invalid knowledge, viz.; error or illusion (mithyājñānam), non-cognition or ignorance (ajñāna) and doubt (saṃśaya).[5] Sucaritamiśra, a commentator of Kumārila, mentions illusion, doubt, remembrance and samvāda as the types of invalid knowledge.

Doubt (Saṃśaya):

Doubt (saṃśaya) is a form of invalid knowledge. It is an indefinite cognition (anavadhāraṇātmaka pratyakṣa) which characterizes an object in mutually conflicting ways. The recognition, in a thing possessing a certain quality, of many contradictory qualities as characterizing it, is called doubt (saṃśaya).[6] When in one and the same object there arises the apprehension of two or more conflicting notions, that becomes doubt. It is of three kinds.

(1) The first kind is that which is caused by the observation of certain common attributes of two things while not noticing any differentiating features between the two, e.g., whether the object ahead is a tree stump or a person. In this case on seeing an object at a distance the observer does not notice any curvedness or crevices that would enable the object being recognized as a tree stump; nor does he see any clear definition of head, hands, etc. which would enable the object being recognized as a person. At the same time the person observes some features common to both the stump and a person such as tallness, shortness, etc. Then he perceives a doubt in the form, ‘Is this a stump or a person?’

(2) The second kind of doubt is that which arises from the difference of opinion about one and the same thing when there is no special reason to ignore or accept either. For example, when one says that sound is eternal and another says that it is not the hearer who sees no special grounds either way, doubts whether sound is eternal or not.

(3) The third kind of doubt is that which is caused by observing some peculiar characteristics without anything special in an object. For example, when one apprehends smell which is the special quality of earth, but which does not indicate whether it subsists in eternal or non-eternal things and when he does not see any special reason then the doubt arises whether earth is eternal or not.[7]

Gautama defines saṃśaya as a conflicting judgement on the precise character of an object.[8] According to Vātsyāyana, doubt is of five kinds. The first form of doubt is called contradictory knowledge or vimarśa, about the same object due to the apprehension of common characteristics (samānadharma) and which depends on the remembrance of the special characteristics of each of them (viśeṣāpekṣa). Secondly, doubt may arise from the cognition of a peculiar and unique property of many objects (anekadharma). Thirdly, doubt is due to the contradictory statements about the same object (vipratipatti). Fourthly, it may be caused due to irregularity of perception (upalabdhyavyavasthā). Lastly, doubt may also be caused due to the irregularity of non-apprehension or non-perception (anupalabdhyavyavasthā). For example, we do not perceive water in the radish where it really exists and also on dry land where it does not exist.

According to the Naiyāyikas, doubt is neither a true cognition nor a false one. It is not a valid knowledge because it lacks belief or firmness which is an essential mark of validity. The Sāṃkhya system excludes doubt from valid knowledge. They hold it as an uncertain knowledge. The validity of doubt as a form of knowledge is not acceptable on the ground that doubt, not being a definite and positive knowledge, cannot be tested by correspondence. Doubt is not an error. In it, mind oscillates between different ideas with the result that it does not carry with it the definite assertion of any character with regard to its object. Doubt neither asserts anything nor denies it positively. It is not a judgement, but a questioning attitude of the mind making no claim to truth. It is the mental reference of two or more contradictory properties to the same object. In it, mind keeps moving between different alternate characterizations of some given object.[9]

Remembrance (Smṛti):

Remembrance or memory (smṛti) is that kind of knowledge which is brought about by impressions left behind by a former knowledge in the soul.[10] It is the revival of past experience.[11] The basis of remembrance is impression left on the soul by an experience. Our experiences modify the soul in some way and these modifications are preserved in soul. These modifications of the soul-substance are called impressions and these are the direct causes of recollection.[12] The Naiyāyikas and the Mīmāṃsakas hold memory or remembrance as non-valid knowledge. According to them, the object remembered is different from the object present and there is no correspondence between memory and its object. According to Gaṅgeśopādhyāya, remembrance cannot be held as a valid knowledge. Because, every form of valid knowledge illuminates an object as present whereas remembrance involves a reference to the past. The Bhāṭṭas and the Prābhākaras maintain that remembrance is different from recognition which is not regarded as depending solely on a previous mental impression and therefore, it is exempted from the defect of remembrance. Jayanta holds that remembrance is invalid because its object is non existent at the time of its memory.[13]

In the Yoga system, the bhāṣyakāra holds that all dream images are memory images. Vācaspati Miśra opines that memory does never reveal more than what is experienced though it may reveal less.[14]

Hypothetical Argument (Tarka):

Hypothetical argument is an intellectual act which contributes to the ascertainment of truth by means of adducing logical grounds in favour of one of the alternative possibilities when the reality is not known in its actual character.[15] Tarka is a distinct type of reasoning. It consists in arguing that if out of two concomitant things, the concomitant (vyāpya) one is present, the presence of the other its correlate (vyāpaka) should also be present. For example, if a jar were to exist here it should be perceivable like the spot (where it stands). This kind of hypothetical reasoning helps the instruments of valid cognition in this way. Suppose, someone concludes that there is no fire in the hill after doubting about its existence. Then if another were to tell him, ‘if there is no fire in the hill, there would be no smoke also’. This kind of argument is called tarka. It helps in establishing the presence of the probandum in the subject which is the object of inference (anumāna).[16] According to Vātsyāyana, when two contradictory alternatives seem to be equally possible with regard to a particular point of enquiry and the mind oscillates between them, hypothetical argument in support of either of them helps to resolve the indecisiveness. He opines that, it is not pramāṇa but simply an aid to pramāṇa. [17] Vācaspati Miśra agrees with Vātsyāyana and Uddyotakara, but lays greater stress upon the aspect of elimination, which happens to be his valuable contribution to hypothetical reasoning. In his view, the method of elimination helps to prove that one of the alternatives is logically impossible and the remaining one is nearer to truth.[18]

Illusion (Viparyaya or Bhrama):

Illusion or error is a form of invalid knowledge like memory and doubt. It is contrasted from truth[19] and it is a new experience of some present object. It is invalid because it reveals a present object in the form of a different object. It misrepresents a fact. When an object is presented in a form which does not belong to it, then it is a case of illusion or error. Different systems of Indian philosophy have come out with divergent theories to explain the causes of illusion. These different theories are known as khyātivādas. Illusion is an undoubted knowledge, which indeed does not agree with the true nature of the object.[20] The word khyāti means knowledge and hence the this regard it may be stated that knowledge may be accepted as both true and false. Therefore, the khyātivādas are discussed only in the case of falsity of knowledge.

There are five theories of illusion or error. These are—

  1. ātmakhyāti;
  2. asatkhyāti;
  3. akhyāti;
  4. anyathākhyāti and
  5. anirvacanīyakhyāti.

(i) Ātmakhyāti:

The theory of error or illusion held by the Yogācāras is known as ātmakhyāti. In their opinion, there are no objects external to consciousness. Illusion is the subjective idea which is wrongly accepted to be objective. Error or illusion, according to the Yogācāras, consists in an illegitimate process of projection of subjective ideas as objective and extra mental facts. The theory of ātmakhyāti is not meant to give a psychological account of the process of erroneous perception. It is only interesting for logically determining the concept of error or illusion.

(ii) Asatkhyāti:

The Mādhyamika ‘nihilist’ advocates the theory of asatkhyātivāda. According to all Indian systems, the Mādhyamika Buddhist advocates the voidness (śūṇyatā) of all existence. According to asatkhyāti, error means judging something non-existent as existent.[21] Pārthasārathi Miśra says that the upholders of asatkhyātivāda negate the ‘relate’ together with the ‘relation’, while the upholders of viparītakhyātivāda negate the ‘relation’ only.[22] In the illusion, ‘this is silver’ ‘this’ is real and ‘silver’ too is real, but their relation is totally unreal. But, according to the nihilist ‘this’ and ‘silver’ are as unreal as their relation. It is asat which is falsely perceived as sat, viz., silver. The theory of asatkhyāti refers to total void or śūṇya, i.e., the object of illusion for the nihilist is absolutely unreal, while for the Bhāṭṭa, it is real in a different place and time. But how can an absolutely unreal object give rise to its direct apprehension?[23] An unreal object is never presented to our consciousness. Nobody perceives the sky flower, the horn of a man and so on. Therefore, the silver that is directly perceived in the nacre-silver illusion, cannot be absolutely unreal like a sky flower as the nihilist holds.

(iii) Akhyāti:

The theory of error or illusion advocated by the Prābhākara school is known as misapprehension but a negative non-apprehension. Prabhākara’s theory of error is known as akhyāti, because, it interprets illusion as the absence of khyāti or knowledge. Like the Advaitins, Prabhākara also holds that the object of a cognition gets manifested by itself. In this illusion, ‘this is silver’, what is manifested is the silver, so its object is the silver and not the nacre (suktika) as contended by the Bhāṭṭa Mīmāṃsakas.

According to Prabhākara, in all cases, illusion is due to non-discrimination which means non-apprehension of distinctions between two cognitions and their objects. Therefore, akhyāti is also called vivekākhyāti or bhedagr̄ aha. [24] The cause of non-discrimination is the obscuration of memory (smṛtipramoṣa). The object of memory belongs to the past. It is always referred to as ‘that’ in contrast with the object of perception which is referred to as ‘this’ but when it is stripped of ‘thatness’, the memory becomes obscured. But why should it be called memory when it is not recognized as such? Śālikanātha says that the ‘silver’ is neither perceived nor inferred, because neither there is a contact of the eye with silver nor there is a mark (liṅga) of the presence of silver.[25] Thus, by the method of illumination it is concluded that the ‘silver’ is remembered.

Jayanta Bhaṭṭa’s objection to this theory is that it fails to account for the presentative character of the illusion as confused knowledge cannot inspire the confidence necessary for practical activity. The illusion of silver is an error or perception and not of memory. Jayanta asserts that it is the cognition of a thing in a different form. Therefore, it can be included under viparītakhyāti or anyathākhyāti. As regards Prabhākara’s contention, viparītakhyāti also accepts the existence of the recollection of silver. Jayanta Bhaṭṭa points out that it is the specific property of silver and not silver itself which is recollected in viparītakhyāti. The cause of illusory judgement is the detective sense organs. In this way, Jayanta Bhaṭṭa opines that Prabhākara’s theory of akhyāti is not based on sound footing.

Hence, it can be said that the theory of akhyāti gives a good psychological analysis of illusion and it is right in referring to that in illusion where there is some objective fact which is viewed incompletely and there is the memory image revived due to similarity. By advocating the theory of akhyāti, Prabhākara occupies a prominent place in Indian philosophy.

(iv) Anyathākhyāti:

The Nyāya theory of illusion is called the anyathākhyātivāda. The Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika system advocates the anyathākhyāti or theory of error; an error or illusion is the apprehension (khyāti) of an object as otherwise (anyathā) or as a different object. It is misperception of an object as another object. This theory of error is also called real.[26] Like Kumārila, the Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika also believe that error is due to a wrong synthesis of the presented and the represented object. The word anyathā means ‘elsewise’ and ‘elsewhere’. Both these meanings are brought out in error. The presented object is perceived elsewise and the represented object exists elsewhere. Error is due to a wrong synthesis of the presented object. For example, the ‘shell’ and the ‘silver’ are both separately real but their relation in their synthesis as ‘shell-silver’ is unreal. The ‘shell’ is misperceived as ‘silver’ which exists elsewhere, i.e., in the market.

According to some later Naiyāyikas, in illusion, the ‘shell’ is mistaken for ‘silver’ which exists somewhere else and is perceived where actually shell is present. It is possible by means of jñānalakṣaṇa pratyakṣa which is a complicated perception through association. But, this explanation given by the Naiyāyikas does not give any new insight to the perceptual character of the ‘silver’. It merely takes for granted that the ‘silver’ which appears like a percept is actually a percept. The difference between the Naiyāyikas and Kumārila is that while Kumārila is boldly prepared to forsake his realism to the extent of maintaining the ideal element in error, the Naiyāyikas in order to preserve their realism vainly fall back upon extra ordinary perception to explain the revival of ‘silver’ in memory. Kumārila holds that knowledge becomes invalid when some defects are discovered in the causes of knowledge or when it is set aside by a subsequent subletting knowledge. The Naiyāyikas opine that the illusory silver is a matter of perception, while for the Bhāṭṭas it is only due to memory. But this contrast seems to be very much light while the later Naiyāyikas in elaborating the jñāna lakṣaṇa for the explanation of illusion admit that perception of illusory silver is due to association and memory. In both the cases, memory plays an important role. Therefore, the acceptance of extra-ordinary perception, so far illusion is concerned, does not seem to serve any extra purpose.

(v) Anirvacanīyakhyāti:

The Advaita Vedānta theory of illusion is known as the illusion, not only the object of commonly called erroneous cognition is indeterminate but also that of the non-erroneous cognition is accepted to be indeterminate. When an object cannot be ascertained either as existing or non-existing then it is called anirvacanīya. [27] According to the Vedānta system of philosophy, the illusion is not merely subjective, but that there is actually a phenomenon of illusion as there are phenomena of actual external objects. The difference in the two cases consists in this that the illusion is generated by the doṣa or defect of the senses etc., whereas the phenomena of external objects are not due to such specific doṣas.

The special feature of this theory of illusion is that indefinable (anirvacanīyakhyāti) illusory silver is created in every case where an illusory perception of silver occurs. In the Vedānta system, there are three orders of reality, viz., the absolute (pāramārthika), the practical ordinary experience (vyavahārika) and illusory (prātibhāṣika). The pāramārthika represents the absolute truth. The vyavahārika and prātibhāṣika represent false impressions due to doṣa. The difference between vyavahārika and prātibhāṣika is that the defect of the phenomenal perception is neither discovered nor removed until salvation whereas the defect (doṣa) of the prātibhāṣika reality which takes place in many extraneous forms is perceived in the world of our ordinary experience. In this way, the prātibhāṣika experience lasts for a much shorter period than the vyavahārika. Thus, in the case of the illusion of silver in the conch-shell, indefinable silver is created by the doṣa in association with the senses, which is called the creation of an indefinable (anirvacanīya) silver of illusion.

The Bhāṭṭa Mīmāṃsakas, the Sāṃkhyasūtra and Vijñānabhikṣu, the bhāṣyakāra see many grounds to be dissatisfied with this theory of illusion. According to them, what is different from the absolutely real cannot be perceived, e.g., in the case of a man’s horn. Again, what is different from the absolutely unreal cannot be obstructed,e.g., in the case of the self. Therefore, the illusory snake can neither be perceived nor be obstructed. Therefore, the anirvacanīyakhyātivāda of the Advaitins is baseless.

Footnotes and references:


buddhitvasāmānyavati ātmāśrayaḥ prakāśo buddhiḥ. Saptapadārthī, p. 47


tattvānubhavaḥ pramā atattvajñānam apramā. Ibid., p. 59


ayathārthānubhavastrividhaḥ saṃśayaviparyayatarkabhedāt. Tarkasaṃgraha,52


praśastapādapraṇīte padārthasaṃgrahabhidhebhāṣye vidyānirupaṇaprastave’ yathārtha jñānasya cāturvidhyamuktam saṃśayaviparyaya svapnānadhyavasāya bhedena, Prakaraṇapañcikā, p. 43


aprāmāṇyam tridhā bhinnam mithyātva jñānasaṃśayaiḥ. Ślokavārttika, 2. 54


ekasmindharmīṇi viruddhanānādharmavaiśiṣṭayāvagāhi jñānam saṃśayaḥ. Tarkasaṃgraha, 52


samānānekadharmopapattervipratipatterupalabdhyavyavasthātśca viśesāpekṣo vimarśaḥ saṃśayaḥ. Nyāyasūtra, i. 1. 23


Vātsyāyana Bhāṣya on Nyāyasūtra, i. 1. 23


anubhavajanyā smṛtiheturbhāvanā ātmamātravṛttiḥ, as quoted in Bijalwan, C.D.,


saṃskāramātrajanyam jñānam smṛtiḥ. Tarkasaṃgraha, p. 32


bhavanātmakastu saṃskāra ātmadravyavarti pūrvānubhavo’sya kāraṇam smṛtistu kāryam. Nyāyamañjarī, p. 254


tadāruḥrasya vastunaḥ tadānimasatvāt, Nyāyamañjarī, p. 23


tadadhika viṣayaparigrahāstu saṃpramoṣaḥ, Tattvavaiśāradī on Vyāsa Bhāṣya, Ch.I


avijñātatatve’rthe kāraṇopapattistatvajñānārthamuhastarkaḥ. Nyāyasūtra, i. 1. 40


Tarkabhāṣā, 25


na tvāvadhārayati na vyavasyati na niścinoti evam evedam iti. Nyāyabhāṣya, i. 1. 40


viśeṣadarśanānniścayaḥ pramāṇena bhavati, na tarkena tadanumānamātratvāt tarkasya. Nyāyavārttikatātparyaṭīkā, 11. 40


anyathāsāntamarthamanyathārūpena pratipadyate. Nyāyaratnākara on Ślokavārttika, 5. 118


abadhāraṇārūpatattvajñānam viparyayaḥ. Saptapadārthī, p 72


anye śūnyavādīno bauddhaḥ asadviṣayam jñānam. Nyāyavārttikatātparyaṭīkā,1. 1. 2, p. 72


asatkhyātivādīnastu saṃsargino’pyapalapantiti viśeṣaḥ. Śāstradīpikā, p. 104


nirūpākhyānasyaparokṣābhāṣagocaratvānupapatteḥ. Siddhāntacandrikā, p. 50


tanmate bhedagrāhaḥ vivekāgraha ityanārthantaram. Prakaraṇapañcikā, p. 52


na hyasannihitam tāvat pratyakṣam rajatam bhavet / liṅgādyabyabhavaccanya pramāṇasya na gocaraḥ // Prakaraṇapañcikā, 3. 31


anye tu yatra yadadhyāstasyaiva viparītadharmatvakalpanāmācakṣate. Bhāṣya on Vedānta Darśana, p. 11


pratyekam sadasattvābhyām vicārapadavimna yat gāhate tadanirvācyamāhurvedāntavādinaḥ. Citsukhī, p. 79

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